During the weekend of June 1-2, more than 8,000 young adults from across the European Union journeyed to Strasbourg, France for the third European Youth Event (EYE), sponsored by the Parliament. Beverley Flatt, an alumnus of the Youth Ag Summit and current member of the communications team for Animal Health at Bayer, took part in the event to discuss the future of farming.
I grew up in a small town in the center of the United States. Republic, Missouri is where I first fell in love with agriculture. But, at 13-years-old, I could have never imagined where I would be nearly 15 years later- standing in front of the European Parliament Building in Strasbourg, France surrounded by more than 8,000 passionate young adults.
The European Youth Event, or EYE, is a jammed packed two-day event sponsored by the European Parliament, where young people can debate, learn, ideate, and network on topics ranging from fair trade to the digital revolution.
As an American cattle farmer living in Germany, I was invited to take part in the debate about the “Farm of the Future.”
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a farmer. I didn’t even know any farmers. But after signing up for an agricultural science class in high school, I knew things were about to change. I wanted to be a scientist and then a welder and then an agricultural education teacher. I eventually studied communications and plant and animal science in college and four years later, my husband and I bought a farm.
As a farmer, I am not only an environmentalist and a tractor driver, but I’m also a computer programmer, a drone pilot, a geneticist, and an engineer.
The farm of the future requires a technological approach
So when it came time to prepare for the debate, I knew that the farm of the future would require a technological approach. As a farmer in the United States, I know we have been tremendously fortunate and have benefitted greatly from the technologies that have been accepted. The health and well-being of our cattle improves every day with better access to record keeping software and diagnostic tools. In a neighboring field, the soybeans have a stronger resistance to weeds which acts as a barrier for our own hay ground and pastures. This year, we are finally set up to practice artificial insemination for our cows which can lead to easier labor and delivery and strengthened immunity among calves.
But many of the technological advancements that benefit our farm, our customers and our environment are either restricted or banned in other parts of the world. I think there is an opportunity for some of these limitations to be re-evaluated in order to provide safe, healthy, and affordable food that is grown in a sustainable way.
There is a statistic that I first memorized about 10 years ago. “We need to feed 10 billion people by 2050.”
At the time, those numbers didn’t feel so ominous because 2050 was so far away. But in reality, that means there are only 32 growing seasons between then and now. 32 more chances to plant. 32 more breeding cycles. 32 more opportunities to gather the harvest we need. That means the generation taking part in the EYE has to figure out how to accomplish all of this before we retire.
Fortunately, I believe technology can help us accomplish all of this in ways that benefit farmers, consumers, and our planet. However, to address these challenges and unlock the full potential for farmers there are a few key pieces that need to be in place.
A win-win business model
First, innovative agricultural practices should be given prominent consideration in any policy making such as the US Farm Bill or the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers who have already taken steps towards digitalization and biotechnology should be supported and those who have yet to do so should be encouraged. What is so great about the EU, is that the member states can be creative in how this look in each country. Whether that includes outreach programs with research universities, incentive programs, or even marketing campaigns, innovative agricultural practices should be shared and discussed.
Secondly, a well-developed infrastructure is needed for any technologically-advanced agriculture practice. From ensuring the safety of the roads and bridges that autonomous tractors travel across, to guaranteeing rural communities have access to high speed broadband to power the software behind robotic milking machines, we must ensure these communities have their foundational needs met.
Finally, farmers should be able to make use of the targeted data that is gathered from these technologies. I firmly believe that when the collection, use and storage of this data are clear and transparent between the farmer and the provider, you get a win-win business model.